Man’s benevolence blooms

Craig Nelson poses at Lincoln Park in Fairmont among the flowers he voluntarily bought, planted, waters and weeds.

The city is awash with stunning flower displays this summer. Hanging baskets are suspended from light poles. Massive flower pots line Downtown Plaza. A colorful bed is planted on the shore of Sisseton Lake.

But the most stunning array is located in Lincoln Park. While the city plants and maintains the monochromatic beds on the west side of the park, all the blooms from the street to the large arbor have been voluntarily purchased, planted, watered and weeded by one resident — Craig Nelson. He didn’t originally plan to tackle such a big job. It just worked out that way.

A newspaper article in the fall of 2011 caught Nelson’s eye. With the financial crunch causing a reduction in the number of municipal employees, the city was looking for volunteers to take over some beautification chores in the parks. If people didn’t step up, the existing five flower beds in Lincoln Park would be replaced with sod.

When another plea for volunteers was issued the following spring, Nelson agreed to take over two of the plots. When no one else stepped up, he took two more. Then he took the final one.

“The first year, 2012, I ended up taking over those five. Three years ago, I took over the small arbor,” he said. “I’ve added 10 beds, and then I took over both of the pedestal planters.”

Now in his sixth season, Nelson recently added five planters surrounding the flag pole, and he has simplified some of his initial practices.

“The first couple of years, I used an old garden hose. I’d coil it up, put it in a big garbage bag and hide it under a large shrub so I didn’t have to haul it every day,” he said. “Now I have 100 feet of collapsible hose that I can carry in a bucket.”

Nelson planned to keep a log this year, recording the number of trips he makes to the park and the number of hours he spends working on the flowers, but he got busy with his planting and never kept track.

“I’m here between 180 and 250 times a year. When I’m planting, it can be three, four or five times a day, so it’s probably closer to 250,” he said.

This prompts the question — why?

“This park just has a lot of history for my family,” Nelson said. “When I was a kid, our farm wasn’t even a mile north of here. I probably went by here as a kid a million times. At that time, there were stone pillars on either side of the entrance. When I was in college, my mom owned the second house from the park so my younger siblings played here. We went snow sledding here.”

Those strong feelings of nostalgia blend with his appreciation for the beauty of the land.

“To me, it’s one of the most beautiful spots on the planet,” he said. “We have some of the most gorgeous trees here. The contour of the park is just beautiful the way it slopes down into Lake George. It’s a place for reflection. I love it, and that’s why I couldn’t stand the thought that they were just going to grass it over.”

Although the numerous beds look like perfection, Nelson is quick to laugh and admit his errors.

“I’ve been down some wrong roads,” he said. “Three years ago, I planted some sunflowers that were supposed to get 6-8 feet tall. They were off to a nice start. Then they went all over the place. I started all over the next year.”

Nelson is retired now, but the first year he took on the gardening duties at Lincoln Park, he was still working full-time.

“This is my sixth year now, and I’m hoping that God will let me do it for 10,” he said.